Inland Rail: Blue sky or blue sky?

A map of the proposed 'Steel Mississippi', a giant inland rail venture set to ease pressure on freight routes.
A map of the proposed 'Steel Mississippi', a giant inland rail venture set to ease pressure on freight routes.

THEY'VE done it again. Under the flag of political expediency, the Federal Government has slammed a fistful of dollars on the table to get the bush on side in a budget that does very little to appease any of the main regional production sectors of this country.

Fistful of dollars? $8.4billion to build the Inland Rail. You can just about hear the hats going into the air! But politicians promises, what is their value today?

$8.4billion and no information on its rollout, how it will be spent and what contribution the private sector will have to make.

Or do we again, as we did with the Alice Springs to Darwin railway, go into debt to China to make it happen?

Not one cent was allocated, as far as I can see, to look at the social impact and how it will affect the nation's social responsibility with the building of this railway, if it is ever built.

Hurrah the farmers are shouting, "over the moon" NFF president Fiona Simson is quoted as saying. Decent transport services, get our produce to market, to make more money!

And these comments from one of the world's leading primary production sectors depending almost entirely on road transport to make huge export income, a transport industry stumbling over poorly maintained roads and infrastructure.

The responsibility for the 1700km freight rail network between Melbourne and Brisbane has been handed to the Australian Rail Track Corporation.

And you can bet your best oil rag that millions will be spent on consultants, reviews and every other office-based exploit that modern government and the corporate world can extract from me $8.4billion before one metre of track is laid.

What if it does go ahead? Having watched the century-long battle to get the Alice Springs to Darwin rail link built which was supposed to open all the richness of Asia, create the Port of Darwin as the Singapore of Northern Australia and everyone would get rich.

We know what happened with the Port of Darwin, it was leased for 99 years to the Chinese.

The railway has trouble surviving based on freight, and the road trains still roll and offer the northern and southern destinations more versatility and more flexibility and more dependability than rail could ever offer.

So if the inland rail route goes ahead whether by 2024 or 2124, what of Australia's road transport industry that survives along this very busy route?

There will be no social responsibility investigation looking into loss of jobs and livelihood if this comes to pass.

And what of Ms Simson's farmers? If road transport in the region collapses, who is going to run out to the properties and communities around the main rail heads to bring that produce to load on the train? Oh that's right, we killed road transport.

We've watched the battle between rail and trucks for decades upon decades, we live in a sparsely populated continent, the only successful and profitable rail infrastructure is where single-product bulk freight is carried, such as coal in the east, iron ore in the west.

Until our population trebles and cities line the track from Brisbane to Melbourne, shouldn't the farmers, governments and all the other interested parties be looking at ways of making the road transport infrastructure network more safe and efficient, an industry that is already in place and doing a damn good job?

Just a thought...

Bruce Honeywill

Big Rigs